Free Things to do on a Day Trip to Eastbourne

1 March 2022

The Sun Trap of the South

Eastbourne is known as ‘The Sun Trap of the South’ due to its abundance of sunny days. Nestled against the rolling hills of the South Downs, its charming promenade is lined with Victorian buildings and pretty carpet gardens.

With a bandstand and pier overlooking the pebble beach, seagulls swoop over the English Channel creating a classic seaside scene. Eastbourne has a tranquil vibe and being a mere hour and a half from London by train, it makes a perfect day trip from the capital.

The best way to explore Eastbourne is by walking. Take a packed lunch and plenty of water, put on some comfortable shoes and head to the seaside for an active and fun-packed day!

Regular trains run to Eastbourne from Victoria Station in London or Gatwick Airport. When you arrive in Eastbourne, turn left and walk through the town centre until you reach the picturesque promenade.  

Take a Walk along the Seafront...

The length of Eastbourne seafront spans around five miles and the promenade is flat and paved – ideal for walking. Whichever direction you head, you will discover a wide range of sights, sounds and attractions.

Towards the Sovereign Harbour

Heading east with the beach on your right-hand side, you will pass the Redoubt, one of several towers in Eastbourne built to defend the country against Napoleon’s army. Just beyond the tower, you turn a corner at Splash Point which is where the sea crashes up onto the promenade on stormy days.

After passing The Beach Deck, a popular restaurant with spectacular sea views, and Treasure Island Children’s Playground, you will notice a cluster of fishing boats on the beach. Fishermen unpack their daily catch and fresh seafood is sold from fishing huts.

Soon, you find yourself in the most undeveloped stretch of the seafront, where the beaches are quieter and wild coastal plants grow. Looking behind you,  there are sweeping views of the pier and the South Downs - a fabulous sight, especially on a sunny day.

Check out the numerous luxury yachts at Sovereign Harbour, which is surrounded with shops, restaurants and cafes. If you are lucky, you may even spot a seal or two in the harbour – they can often be seen bobbing about in the shallow waters or lounging on the rocks.

The Pier and Bandstand

Walking in the opposite direction eventually takes you the foot of the South Downs. The promenade splits into two levels and Eastbourne’s carpet gardens can be seen on the upper level, while the walkway below runs alongside the beach.

Before setting off, take a stroll on the Victorian pier (entrance is free!) Built in 1872, its amusement arcade was destroyed by fire in 2014, but the pier has since re-opened.

These days the pier is home to Victorian Tea Rooms, the 101 Jazz Lounge and a few amusements where you can try your luck on the penny pushers. There are lovely views of the seafront in either direction.

Eastbourne’s iconic bandstand was built in 1931 and a wide range of concerts take place there - from George Michael tribute acts to the 1812 Overture complete with a spectacular firework display. Although you have to buy tickets to enter the bandstand, you can soak up the music and atmosphere if you sit on a nearby beach or on one of the seats situated along the promenade. 

Towards Beachy Head

The next landmark is the Redoubt, another defensive coastal tower, perched on a hill overlooking the English Channel. From the top of the hill, there are superb views along the coastline.

Dip into the free-to-enter Lifeboat Museum, which is located at the foot of the hill in a boathouse built in 1898. Although small, the museum is brimming with photographs and exhibits tracing 200 years of lifesaving history.  

From the Redoubt, it’s a scenic walk past the Western Lawns and Italian Gardens to the foot of Beachy Head. Here the beach gives way to the white chalk cliffs and it’s a great spot for rock pooling when the tide is out.

Take a Hike

If you are feeling energetic, hiking up to Beachy Head is definitely worth the effort and shouldn’t be more than a two-hour round-trip for anyone who is moderately fit. The 530-foot-high chalk cliffs dramatically overlook a red and white striped lighthouse, and the views are spectacular.

It’s a beautiful area for a walk, whether it’s windy and wild with the sea swirling round the lighthouse or a bright calm day when the English Channel sparkles under the sun. Just don’t step too close to the edge – people have lost their lives while posing for photographs or stumbling near the precipice.

If you are a serious hiker, you can continue across the hills to the tiny hamlet of Birling Gap and take a break on the pebble beach. Beyond Birling Gap are the Seven Sisters, a series of seven cliffs stretching all the way to Cuckmere Haven where the River Cuckmere twists its way to the sea.   

Modern Art at the Seaside

If you like modern art, don’t miss the Towner Art Gallery. Actually, it would be difficult to miss - it happens to be the most colourful building in Eastbourne.

The gallery is next to the Congress Theatre (you will be able to see it easily from the Redoubt) and has a wide range of exhibits, both temporary and permanent. David Hockney and Grayson Perry are two of the artists who have had work shown there.

The permanent exhibitions are free, and the gallery has a large collection of art by Eric Ravilous who lived in East Sussex. From the rear of the building, there’s a bird’s eye-view of the Devonshire Park, home to Eastbourne’s annual pre-Wimbledon international tennis tournament.     

Free Festivals

Eastbourne plays host to an array of free festivals each summer. Pride is a welcome new addition to the town’s free festival scene and takes place in July each year. Following a parade, the celebrations continue with live music and entertainment at Princes Park - it’s a fun, flamboyant and life-affirming event for LGBTQ+ folk and their friends.

Every August, crowds gather along the seafront to see incredible displays by aerobatic teams, parachutists, helicopters and military jets at Airbourne. Often featuring the famous Red Arrows, the spectacle attracts almost a million people who come to the town to enjoy the free air show.

Each summer, Eastbourne Carnival takes place with over 100 colourful floats and 1,500 walkers  making their way along the seafront from the Western Lawns to Princes Park. The whole of the town comes out to celebrate and it’s a fun day for all the family.

The End of a Perfect Day

Before heading back to the station after a wonderful day in Eastbourne, soak up the sight of the evening sun casting its glow over the sea and reflect on the fact that some of the best things in life are free!